Speak their Language (Know the Audience)
When I was in Malaysia for TechEd, I spent 3 full days with locals, I learned snippets of each of the languages, tried to understand their jokes and get an idea about what was important to people in Malaysia. American analogies, much humor, and certain “U.S. specific” English colloquialism just didn’t make any sense to them. When it came time to give the presentations, I better understood the Malaysia sense of timing, of tone and timbre, and I began each of my presentations by speaking in Bahasa Malaysia. I changed aspects of my slides to remove inappropriate content and add specific details that would be important to them.
While this is an extreme example, the parallels with any audience are clear. If you’re speaking to a room full of IT guys who work in the Automotive field, or the Banking industry, the fact that we are all programmers only gives you a small degree of shared experience. Remember if you’re giving a presentation on Commerce Server or VB.NET, to get into the mind of the audience and ask yourself, why are they here and what can I tell them that will not be a waste of their time. What would YOU want to hear (and HOW would you like to hear it) if you were sitting there?
Be Utterly Prepared (No excuses)
Short of an unexpected BSOD (and even then, be ready) you should be prepared for ANYTHING. You should know EVERY inch of your demos and EXACTLY what can go wrong. Nothing kills your credibility more than an error that you DON’T understand. Errors and screw-ups happen ALL the time in Presentations. They can even INCREASE your credibility if you recover gracefully and EXPLAIN what happened. “Ah, this is a common mistake that I’ve made, and here’s what you should watch for.” Be prepared with phrases that will turn the unfortunate incident around and provide them useful information.
CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT (Have some)
Every move, phrase, mistake, anecdote and slide should actually contain content. It should be meaningful. Your mistakes should teach them, your demos should teach them; even your shortcut keys, utilities and menu layout should teach them. A presentation isn’t an opportunity to read your slides. Remember that most people can read silently to themselves 5 to 10 times faster that you can read to them out loud. Your job as a presenter is to read in between the lines, and provide them structure. Your slides should be treated as your outline – they are structure, scaffolding, nothing more. If you jam your slides full of details and dozens of bullets, you might as well take your content at write an article. It’s difficult to listen to someone talk and read their slides at the same time – remember that when you design your content. YOU are the content, and your slides is your Table of Contents.
System Setup (Be unique, but don’t be nuts)
When you a presenting, remember that you are looked upon as an authority. Basically, you are innocent until proven guilty. It’s great to have a personality and to be unique, but don’t let your personal choice of editors or crazy color scheme obscure the good information you’re presenting. I appreciate that you may like to use VI or emacs to view text files, but let’s just say that sometimes Notepad has a calming effect on the audience.
“Volume and Diction,” my High School Drama teacher said to me. Speak clearly, authoritatively, project your voice to the back of the room. The best speakers don’t even need microphones. If you have a speaking affectation (I had a lisp growing up) or you tend to say, um, etc, or find yourself overusing a specific phrase (“a priori”, “fantastic”, “powerful”, etc) take it upon yourself to NOTICE this mannerism and avoid it.
Practice multi-tasking. It seems silly to say, but although we can all multitask to a certain degree, when we hit a real snag in a presentation, many of us tend to freeze. Silence is deadly. Remember, since all eyes are on you, complete silence and apparent introspection says “I don’t know know what I’m doing.” When you need to get to a particular file, don’t make the audience wait for you while you putter through explorer. Have shortcuts ready (and explain when you use them). Move fast and efficiently, but annotate your actions. You should continue to “color-commentate” your actions like a sports announcer. Don’t allow “dead-air.”
Accessibility (Two words: Font Size, and this means YOU!)
Lucida Console, 14 to 18pt, Bold. Consider this my gift to you. This is the most readable, mono-spaced font out there. Courier of any flavor or Arial (or any other proportionally spaced font) is NOT appropriate for code demonstrations, period, full stop. Prepare your machine AHEAD OF TIME. Nothing disrespects an audience like making them wait while you ask “Can you see this 8 point font? No? Oh, let me change it while you wait.” Setup every program you could possibly use, including all Command Prompt shortcuts, before you begin your presentation. That includes VS.NET, Notepad, XMLSpy, and any others, including any small utilities.
I’ve found that the most readable setup for Command Prompts is a Black Background and with the Foreground Text set to Kermit Green (ala “Green Screen.” Yes, I was suspicious and disbelieving also, but believe it or not, it really works.) I set Command Prompts to Lucida Console, 14 to 18pt, Bold as well, with much success.
You can set many of the “un-set-able” font sizes in VS.NET, including all dialogs and menus, by launching it from the Start|Run menu like “devenv.exe /fs 14.” It will stay this way until you set it back with “devenv.exe /fs 8”. Also, set the font size to LARGEST in Internet Explorer and remember that there are accessibility features in IE that allow you to include your own Large Font CSS file for those web pages that force a small font via CSS.a
For simplicities sake, I like to keep a separate user around call “BigFonty” (choose your own name). He’s an Administrator on the local machine and he exists ONLY for the purposes of demonstrations. All the fonts are large for all programs, large icons, great colors, etc. It’s the easiest way to set all these settings once and always have them easily available.
Demos and Tools
If you ever find yourself on stage in front of > 1000 people saying, “well you probably can’t see this, but…” then you should be asking yourself what you can do about it. If I have two giant projectors and what I’m showing can only be seen by me, what’s the point? There’s a great tool called Zoomin.exe that came with Visual Studio 6.0 (you probably already have this on your box in your path) and there’s a better freeware version with source at http://www.csc.calpoly.edu/~bfriesen/software/zoomin.shtml. Learn to use this desktop magnifier. It takes a little practice, but you’d be surprised at the positive comments you’ll get if you use it effectively. I consistently get complemented by attendees who’ve NEVER seen this tool and had no idea of what they were missing. Do your demo a favor and make sure it can be see.
I also keep a great list of Presentation Tools at http://www.hanselman.com/blog/PermaLink.aspx?guid=115